The Results of Lifting Heavy Weights: How Lifting Heavy Weights Changed One Man’s Life
Even before Mike O’Neill, 73, joined the Denver Police Department nearly four decades ago, the Colorado native was a self-professed gym rat who also participated in martial arts. “Going all the way back to when I was 16, I enjoyed lifting heavy weights,” he said. Yet four years ago when Mike was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, his doctors advised him to stop performing bench presses or lifting any heavy weight over his head. So he began a routine that he’d long since suspected would become inevitable with age: lifting less weight with fewer repetitions. “As far as increasing strength and fitness, I felt like I was just spinning my wheels.”
Mike’s Introduction to the StrongPath
That was all before Mike met Mary—a woman at his gym who told him about the StrongPath approach she’d implemented. Mary, whose story is used as a case study in Fred Bartlit and Steven Droullard’s book Choosing the Strong Path, had for years frequented the gym five days a week. After one year of training the StrongPath way, her improvements were as dramatic as they were undeniable: The petite woman could perform a full body-weight push-up of her full 98 pounds. She could also deadlift 170 pounds and bench press 95 pounds. “Mary is the queen of our gym and maintains a workout regimen that even amazes the trainers,” said Mike. “And she attributes it all to StrongPath.” After describing her progress to Mike, Mary gave him a copy of the book nearly a year ago.
Lifting Heavy Weights is Still Possible as We Age
“In reading Choosing the Strong Path, I realized that we all have the tools to stave off the muscle loss that comes with sarcopenia and aging—and yet most of us are sitting around and watching ourselves get older and die,” he said. “I wanted a different outcome, and Fred and Steven, the authors, presented strong evidence on why muscle loss doesn’t have to become inevitable even as we age. Their approach seemed to contradict this idea that the older we get, the less heavy weight we can lift without paying a price with ligament and muscle damage.”
Mike’s epiphany, as well as his long-held desire to return to lifting heavier weights with lower reps, coincided with an appointment that his wife, Suzie, who will be 74 in November, had with an orthopedic surgeon—she’d been struggling with back and shoulder issues. “At the end of Suzie’s appointment, I asked her doctor if it was still advisable for me not to do bench presses. He told me the [current] research no longer supported that advice. Orthopedic surgeons, he said, had since taken a different view.”
That was the green light Mike needed to ease into the routine he has adopted over the last year—a protocol, steeped in the approach presented in Choosing the StrongPath, that involves challenging the body over time to lift heavier weights. In a typical week, Mike completes a cardio exercise (30 minutes on the elliptical or bike machine) on three days of the week; strength-training workout on three days; and one day off for rest and recovery. “For my lifting, I try to follow the plan presented in the book. I do a cardio warm-up for about 10 minutes, followed by a full-body workout that takes about an hour.” Mike’s regimen includes bench-pressing with a series of increasing weights loaded onto a bar; using a lat pull-down machine and shoulder shrugs with dumbbells to work his shoulders; bicep, tricep and forearm exercises; calf raises and other lower-body exercises. He completes three to four sets of each exercise, and his sets involve 12 to 15 repetitions to start, then six to eight, then one to three. “When you get into strength training, you’ve obviously need to be sensible and not overdo it.” It’s also advisable to consult with a certified fitness trainer to assess your fitness and specific needs before proceeding with any new routine.
Adopting a New Approach to Healthy Living
During the same year that Mike took the StrongPath, Mike—who’d been diagnosed with pre-diabetes—also changed his diet by reducing excess sugar. “For years, I’d basically been eating anything I wanted,” he said. “When you’re a cop whose stress levels often spike 15 or 16 times during a single shift, it’s convenient to stop for a burger and a diet soda. You’re constantly dealing with these enormous adrenaline dumps every time you turn on the siren or respond to a call where someone has a gun.”
Continuing to Lift Heavy Weights Helped to Improve Mike’s Health
Even as he overhauled his fitness regimen, Mike began paying close attention to food labels. “It’s amazing how much added sugar there can be,” he said. He traded his high-fructose cereal for the shredded wheat produced by his local Kroger supermarket. “It’s amazing how my tastes have changed,” he said. “I try to stick with vegetables and lean meats, and I stay away from bread. But I still have my three chocolate chip cookies a week” The result? Mike has shed 20 pounds from his six-foot frame and now stands at a lean 182 pounds. His blood-sugar levels have returned to the normal range. And he is feeling stronger and fitter and more balanced than ever. “I don’t know how much of the change I can attribute to any one category”—in addition to cutting sugar and lifting heavier weights, Mike began studying Tai Chi and embracing its focus on deep breathing and meditation—“but I am not exaggerating when I say that the StrongPath approach has dramatically improved my health.”
Mike and Suzie are the proud grandparents of seven—including 8-year-old triplets, a 10-year-old, and a 4-year-old. Mike has retired from police work and now calls himself a professional grandfather. “Keeping up with the kids has become so much easier, and even more fun, if that’s possible,” he said. “I have more energy than I’ve had in many years.”
Mike seldom misses a workout at 1440, his gym in Castle Pines, Colorado, just outside of Denver. “The concept behind my gym’s name is interesting: There are 1440 minutes in every day—and we shouldn’t waste them. Most of us can spare 30 to 60 of those minutes to improve our health. For me, the change has been worth every minute.”